Finland Table of Contents
Criminal courts of the first instance were of two types, each having jurisdiction in distinct areas and each following separate procedures. The first type of court provided criminal justice in thirty "old towns," including Helsinki. These long-established town courts consisted of three professional judges--one of whom presided--and two lay jurors from the city council. Circuit courts, the second type, exercised jurisdiction in rural districts and in cities incorporated after 1958. The latter category included Espoo and Vantaa, Finland's fourth and fifth largest cities, respectively, located in the greater Helsinki metropolitan area. More than 140 circuit courts in 71 judicial districts formed this system. Circuit courts were conducted by a professional judge, assisted by five to seven jurors elected for the term of the court by the local municipal council. Public prosecutors for both kinds of courts determined whether to press charges against persons accused of offenses solely on the basis of evidence presented by police investigation.
Criminal cases were heard in continuous sessions by both types of courts of the first instance. Verdicts were determined by the vote of the panel of judges and jurors. A two-to-one majority was sufficient in three-member town courts. In circuit courts, however, the verdict of the presiding judge prevailed if the jurors failed to reach a unanimous decision. Measures were pending in 1988 to harmonize court procedures.
Cases involving criminal offenses by on-duty members of the Defense Forces were tried in fifteen special courts of the first instance presided over by a panel of military judges. These courts-martial were integrated into the criminal courts system.
Appeals from the courts of the first instance were heard in six three-member regional courts of appeal that were also responsible for supervising the lower courts. When a panel considered appeals from courts-martial, two military judges were added. About two-thirds of the business of appeals courts involved criminal cases. The Supreme Court, which ordinarily sat in panels of five members, handled final appeals from criminal cases. Permission to appeal was, however, granted by a threemember panel. Because of a tendency by the Supreme Court to limit the cases reviewed to those having value as precedents, the courts of appeal had become increasingly important in criminal matters.
Criminal actions were preceded by a police pretrial investigation. A suspect could be detained by the police for questioning, without access to a lawyer, for three days; this period could be extended to fourteen days, for special reasons on proper authority and with notification to the court. Reforms scheduled to take effect on January 1, 1989, shortened the maximum detention to seven days, with access to a lawyer. The institutions of habeas corpus and bail did not exist as such. Those accused of serious crimes were required to remain in custody. Those accused of minor offenses could be released on personal recognizance at the court's discretion. Preventive detention was authorized only during a declared state of war for variously defined offenses, such as treason or mutiny.
Court proceedings were conducted by the presiding judge, who normally also questioned witnesses. The entire written court record was used as the basis for proceedings in the courts of appeals. Oral hearings were conducted only in those criminal cases in which courts of appeal had original jurisdiction, such as criminal charges against certain high officials. Neither the accused nor his counsel was present when a case was considered by the court of appeal. An accused person had the right to effective counsel. Persons lacking sufficient funds were entitled to free proceedings so that their attorneys' fees and direct costs were borne by the state. Local courts could decide to conduct a trial behind closed doors in juvenile, domestic, or guardianship cases, or when publicity would offend morality or endanger state secrets.
Data as of December 1988
Finland Table of Contents